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REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE UNITED NATIONS INFORMATION SERVICE

Bi-Weekly Briefing

Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the hybrid briefing which was attended by the spokespersons of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the World Food Programme, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, and he World Health Organization.

Myanmar – one year after the coup

Rupert Colville, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), informed that today the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet issued a statement urging the international community to intensify pressure on the military to stop its campaign of violence against the people of Myanmar and to insist on the prompt restoration of civilian rule.

“One year after the military seized power, the people of Myanmar – who have paid a high cost in both lives and freedoms lost – continue to advocate relentlessly for their democracy,” Bachelet said in her statement. “This week, I had a chance to speak in person with determined, courageous human rights defenders who are pleading to the international community not to abandon them, but to take robust, effective measures to ensure their rights are protected and the military is held accountable.”

“I urge governments – in the region and beyond – as well as businesses, to listen to this plea. It is time for an urgent, renewed effort to restore human rights and democracy in Myanmar and ensure that perpetrators of systemic human rights violations and abuses are held to account. As long as impunity prevails, stability in Myanmar will be a fiction. Accountability of the military remains crucial to any solution going forward – the people overwhelmingly demand this,” Bachelet said.

Full statement can be accessed here.

Responding to questions, Mr. Colville stated that the High Commissioner was urging the international community to intensify its pressure on the military. ASEAN had made some progress last year, but that had not yet produced tangible results. There had been an almost universal rejection of the military coup among the country’s population, and different ethnic groups had also come together, for the first time, with a shared vision for a democratic country. A whole generation of young people were not ready to accept the status quo. Mr. Colville said that the military was clearly getting armaments from abroad, which they were using to crash the population at large and were indiscriminately targeting their foes.

Escalating conflict in Yemen

Rupert Colville, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), stated that on 18 January, the UN Human Rights Office had warned about the escalating conflict in Yemen and its devastating impact on civilians. On 21 January, three airstrikes in quick succession by the Saudi-led Coalition had hit a detention facility run by Ansar Allah, also known as ‘Houthis’, in the northern city of Sa’ada, causing dozens of deaths.

OHCHR was working to verify the civilian casualties but so far, they believed that some 91 detainees had been killed, many when the upper floor of one building collapsed, and 236 others had been injured. The most severely injured had been taken to Al Jomhori Hospital in the city, which was struggling to deal with the number of patients in need of urgent and life-saving treatment.   

OHCHR reminded parties to the conflict that international humanitarian law had to be scrupulously respected during the conduct of hostilities. This included taking all feasible measures to verify that targets were indeed military objectives at the time they intended to strike.

OHCHR also renewed its demand that Ansar Allah immediately release two UN staff members who worked for the UN Human Rights Office and UNESCO. They had been detained since early November.

OHCHR press release can be found here.

Responding to questions from the media, Mr. Colville explained that there had clearly been contacts with the Houthis on the two detained UN staff members. It was not clear why they had been arrested in the first place.  

Humanitarian situation in Ethiopia

Tomson Phiri, for the World Food Programme (WFP), said that the WFP today released a new food security assessment, which showed that almost 40 percent of Tigrayans were suffering an extreme lack of food, after 15 months of conflict. Meanwhile, across all three conflict-affected regions of the north, more than nine million people needed humanitarian food assistance, the highest number yet.

The Tigray Emergency Food Security Assessment found that 83 percent of people were food insecure. Families were exhausting all means to feed themselves, with three quarters of the population using extreme coping strategies to survive. Diets were increasingly impoverished as food items became unavailable and families relied almost exclusively on cereals while limiting portion sizes and the number of meals which they ate each day to make whatever food was available stretch further.

In terms of nutrition, the survey had found that 13 percent of Tigrayan children under five and half of all pregnant and breastfeeding women were malnourished, leading to poor pregnancy outcomes, low-birth weight, stunting and maternal death. In neighbouring Amhara region, hunger had more than doubled in five months because the region had borne the brunt of recent fighting between the Ethiopian National Defence Force and the Tigray Forces; more than 14 percent of children under five were malnourished. In Afar region, conflict-driven displacement was pushing hunger and malnutrition rates up. Recent health screening data had shown malnutrition rates for children under five were at 28 percent, far above the standard emergency threshold.

WFP’s Northern Ethiopia response urgently required USD 337 million to deliver assistance over the next six months and would begin running out of the capacity to purchase food from February. Across the entire country, WFP had an unprecedented funding gap of USD 667 million to save and change the lives of 12 million people over the next six months. WFP was doing all it could to ensure its convoys would make it across frontlines, and all parties to the conflict were urged to allow for humanitarian aid to move unobstructed.

Full report can be accessed here.

Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), warned that, due to the lack of supplies arriving to the region, the United Nations and partners had already had to scale down operations in Tigray. They might need to scale down completely by the end of February. There was a lack of supplies, fuel, and cash, stressed Mr. Laerke. One international NGO had reported that they had effectively run out of fuel on 24 January, and they were now delivering aid on foot.

The reason why those supplies were not coming through at the moment, was the ongoing fighting in the vicinity of the transportation corridor, said Mr. Laerke in a response to a question. If the situation did not change, the humanitarian community would not be able to provide any aid at all at the end of February. On another question, Mr. Laerke said that the UN staff who had been asked to leave, and had subsequently left Ethiopia, had not returned to the country. OCHA had the team in Ethiopia needed to do the work on the ground.

Mr. Phiri added that they always aimed to receive assurances from all parties, and both de facto and de iure authorities, to get safe access to regions in need. Negotiating for access was an ongoing, case-by-case process, and not a one-off event, Mr. Phiri emphasized. Famine had not been declared in Tigray, but there were people in both IPC phases 4 and 5, i.e., facing famine-like conditions.

China

Replying to questions from journalists, Rupert Colville, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said that the discussions were still ongoing on a possible visit by Michelle Bachelet, the High Commissioner, to China in the first half of this year. The parameters of such a visit were still under discussion; for the OHCHR, it was paramount that such a visit would be meaningful in human rights terms, and that the High Commissioner would be able to carry out unsupervised meetings with a broad range of civil society actors as well as high-level engagement with Government officials. There would be a visit by an OHCHR team first, to be followed by the High Commissioner herself.

On another question, Mr. Colville said that the process was under way to finalize and release an OHCHR report on Xinjiang and he had no updated timeline yet. As for every human rights report, the process involved crosschecking, verification, and legal aspects; it was made all more complex by the fact that there was no access to the region. OHCHR had continuous exchanges with governments around the world, all with the view of improving human rights situations.

World Health Organization

Replying to questions, Tarik Jašarević, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that there might be a session of the ongoing Executive Board meeting the following morning. It was always difficult to predict with certainty how long those meetings would last.

On the allegations against the WHO Regional Director for Asia-Pacific, he said that the WHO was taking all allegations of racism and harassment seriously and was following up on them. Once there was more information, it would be shared with the media. Every Regional Director was elected by Member States of their respective regions.

WHO’s next briefing was expected to be held the following week.

Ethiopia’s comments regarding the Director-General of WHO, received in a letter, had been addressed at the Executive Board.

Geneva announcements

Catherine Huissoud, for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), said that the following week UNCTAD would organize the 2022 Forum for National Trade Facilitation Committees (NTFC).

The number of NTFC had expanded with the adoption of the Trade Facilitation Agreement at WTO in 2017. They were drivers of change in the COVID-19 recovery as the burden of the pandemic could be eased by improved trade flows. For that trade facilitation needed to work.

The upcoming forum would a fitting opportunity to devise new ways of keeping goods moving across borders smoothly. UNCTAD provided technical support to NTFCs around the world, particularly in developing and least developed countries. It had developed an empowerment programme for NTFCs to implement trade facilitation reforms in a coordinated manner.  In addition, UNCTAD offered e-learning opportunities; created a reform tracker platform has empowered 19 countries across Africa, Asia and Latin America to better track, monitor and manage their trade facilitation initiatives; and also maintained an NTFCs knowledge database that enabled countries to explore and compare NTFCs’ profiles among each other and across regions and levels of development.  

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), informed that the Conference on Disarmament, under the presidency of China, would hold its next public plenary on 3 February at 10 am, in room XIX.

The Committee on the Rights of the Child would open on 31 January at 10 am its 89th (hybrid) session, during which it would review the reports of the Netherlands and Madagascar.

She also informed that Moldova had been reviewed at the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) this morning, and in the afternoon, reports would be adopted on the countries reviewed this week.  

Finally, Ms. Vellucci and journalists bid farewell to Anne Lecroq a departing member of UN Geneva press corps.

They also bid farewell to Rupert Colville, the departing Spokesperson of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Ms. Vellucci and numerous journalists thanked him for his exceptional contribution to communications about human rights in the last three decades, and for his strong support to and cooperation with the Geneva press corps.

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